“Masters Of War” (1963)


“Masters Of War” is one of the reasons Dylan is so beloved, for his breath of vision to “see through” things to get to the heart of who or what is really to blame for injustice, heartbreak, loss, indignity, etc.  Thanks, Bob, for opening up both our minds and hearts for over six decades.

After the first verse, “Masters Of War” follows a rhyming sequence of a/b/c/b/d/e/f/e.

The first verse is a summoning–it begins with an imperative, a command, Come here!–You, You, You, You, You, and then the “I” takes over, and the first rhyme kicks in “desks’/”masks”– words married in rhyme for a perfect image that will matter throughout the song.  It’s not the despot, not the government, not the soldiers who are to be blamed for the ghastly fallout of war. No, but those who make the bombs, those who design them, those who sign off on them behind the safety of their desks.

This is a song with biting invectives hurled with a velocity and a capacity for sarcasm and irony that would define Dylan and still does.

It’s a song that should stay in people’s faces to continue to unmask the real faces of destruction, greed, and brutality.

Here he is singing it live when he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead

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